An interview with one of the biggest MCs in Britain about the explosive success of her freestyles, and her new project Unstable.
"Are you any good at this then?" I ask Lady Leshurr. We're upstairs at Rowan's, a ten pin bowling alley in North London that has become an local institution for late nights, pints, karaoke, arcade games, and the joyful experience of clattering strikes and spares against your mates after work on a Friday. It's early afternoon, so the place is empty. "I'm trash," she laughs. "I've only been to a bowling alley three times max in my whole life, and I've never had a strike before... I've seen a lot of gutter though."
Lady Leshurr has a good excuse for poor bowling skills. In the last two years she's been exerting the mass of her cognitive energy and brain power, like some sort of grime and rap demigod, into her music career. It has blossomed. In fact, blossomed isn't the word. Flowers can't do what she's done. She's mushroomed, exploded, boomed, erupted. Yeah, erupted is good.
The Queen's Speech was a series of freestyles she began in 2015. She'd already released parts one, two and three to the joy of her fans. Then, one morning while scanning Twitter, she received a fairly standard Tweet from a hater, telling her she was "trash" and "ugly". It was only 8am. "You probably haven't even wiped the crust from your eyes or brushed your teeth" she responded. "That's good," she thought, "I'm gonna use that in a chorus."
“Without 'Queen's Speech 4' my mum wouldn't have a house.”
That line became the main hook of "Queen's Speech 4", the song that went on to reach 50 million YouTube views and become the biggest hit of her career. It was even used by Samsung for a commercial during the world's biggest television event: the Super Bowl. The freestyle series has continued ever since, and last October she put out Queen's Speech 7.
"What did that freestyle series do for you?" I ask.
"It changed my life," she explains. "Without 'Queen's Speech 4' my mum wouldn't have a house, and I wouldn't be secure and comfortable where I'm living, I wouldn't be able to get anything that I'd need to allow me to do music. I got my own studio equipment and stuff like that. It's changed my life in so many ways."
For many Leshurr fans, the main pull of her music is her vibrant sense of humour, which can switch from playful to savage in the space of a syllable. The Queen's Speech series thrived on making sharp observations about everyday happenings and web culture, and turning them into meme-able bars that nestled in your mind like melodic parasites.
“I feel like I've got hunger and found my motivation again. I want to prove a few people wrong.”
Meeting her in person, you can see that having a laugh is something deeply entrenched in her personality. Every time she says something that accidentally rhymes, she celebrates it with an "Oh my gosh!", and when she's talking about "riding the beat" she starts yeehaw-ing like a cowboy.
"I guess the humour in my lyrics comes from me," she explains. "I just think I'm really immature and I think that helps with my music. I really don't care. I will say things just to get a reaction. Whether you think: 'Oh my gosh she shouldn't have said that', or. 'Oh my gosh she really went there' – I don't really care because to me it's just bantering."
Right now, she's focusing on Unstable, a more serious conceptual project of songs that will be dropping in this year. The first track to emerge was last year's "On The Road", a laid-back slow jam with scorching lyrics and production that is not unlike something from the mind of Noah '40' Shebib. It was a bold and experimental change from her usual output. "I feel like I came into this new year feeling new," she says. "New hair, new clothes. I feel like I've got hunger and found my motivation again. I want to prove a few people wrong. Unstable is going to show a mature side of me, and a technical flow."
“A lot of the artists in the industry are going through [mental health issues], I can see it, they don't need to tell me that.”
Despite her reputation for witty bangers, she's never been afraid to talk about real life. Last year, in an interview with The Gay Times, she came out as pansexual. "My ex manager told me coming out wasn't a good look or the right move for me or my career," she told the publication. "I remember it made me feel so depressed because I wasn't being allowed to be my authentic self and honestly, speaking from experience, I understand how it can make someone feel trapped, give you low self-esteem and anxiety, because you can't fully be yourself."
Her own mental health experiences are something she's never been afraid to make music about, and it's a lyrical topic we can expect more from on the coming album. "For me, mental health is a massive thing that we need to draw attention to," says Leshurr. "A lot of the artists in the industry are going through it, I can see it, they don't need to tell me that. For me personally, I can't be the one that holds it in, because it starts to really put me in that sunken place, like in the film Get Out. It puts you in a place where you feel like you can't do it anymore. I have to express (in my music), because if I don't express then it is going to keep me down. That is how I heal."
Right now, she's also working on a book. It won't be one of those music biography books that feels so ghost written it's almost haunted. She's doing it herself. "It's about me, my journey, and how I got to the place I'm in right now," she explains. "It's going to be about believing in yourself, and trying to empower young females. That's it."